Dan Pink, former Al Gore speechwriter, and best-selling author of five books, believes there is a mismatch between what science knows about motivation and what business does.
His idea is that most work incentives are built around external motivators. As Pink describes them: the carrot and the stick. He argues most businesses and managers believe the best way to motivate people is through rewards when things are done right, and punishments when things are done wrong.
The problem is these motivators only work in a narrow band of circumstances. Sure, these incentives help us narrow our focus to a specific part of the problem, but they also destroy our creativity.
In studies conducted by MIT, and funded by the US Federal Reserve, it was found that when tasks involved only mechanical skill. Say, packing boxes. Bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay the better the performance.
However, as soon as a task required creativity, or at least partial cognitive ability. Think of 90% of the tasks you’ll perform today. The results were the opposite. In 8 of the 9 tasks they examined across three experiments, researchers found that higher incentives led to worse performance.
So, what does this all mean?
Well, according to Pink, if you want to motivate people you should focus on providing them with intrinsic motivators, not extrinsic motivators. In other words, you should motivate them internally, not externally. He suggests providing people with three things: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
1. Autonomy. People are in control to direct themselves and make their own decisions.
2. Mastery. People have the opportunity and desire to get better at something that matters.
3. Purpose. People have an opportunity to work in the service of something larger than themselves.
The takeaway is that management works if you want compliance. But if you want engagement, self direction is much more effective.
This is why Google lets their workers spend 20% of their time working on projects of their choosing. The idea is to encourage innovation through autonomy, mastery and purpose. Workers have control over their time, their task, their team and their technique. This is how around half of Google’s new products, including Gmail and Google News, are born.